Red Lights on the Prairies

red lights book photo

While perusing an assortment of used books at a Victoria book sale, the one above, Red Lights on the Prairies’[1] caught my eye – proving once again that covers do sell books. Flipping to the table of contents, my long held belief about my hometown being a quiet, unexciting, and frankly somewhat boring place was shattered. There it was, in black, white – and red.

James H. Gray is the author of several best selling books on the social history of western Canada. In this book, he reveals that from about 1880 to 1940, Lethbridge, and other emerging centres across the western Canadian prairies had thriving red light districts that persisted despite pressure from the temperance and moral reform societies. Gray’s well-documented book illustrates the frequent conflicts and often-fiery rhetoric between the reformers, town councils and police, who were caught in the middle. Town councils and police believed that prostitution couldn’t be eliminated, and so the next best thing was to contain it in segregated areas where it could be policed and monitored.

Mainstream history, Gray points out, has downplayed the existence of prostitution. The dearth of written material on the subject illustrates Gray’s point. Gray goes where other historian have seldom trod. His well researched treatise chronicles the role of prostitution in the development of western Canada, demonstrating that it was an integral part of the social and economic fabric of society.

“The generosity of the whores of the West was more than just legend; it was a well documented fact. A pioneer CPR company doctor recalled that in times of disaster it was always the local prostitutes to succour the sufferers or survivors.”[2]

Gray’s work gives insightful glimpses into the gritty reality of the lives of miners, cowboys, homesteaders and entrepreneurs, and into important issues of the day, from haphazard development, lack of planning, rancorous political battles. The author supplements his research with personal interviews that breathe life into the history.

Demographics explain the large assortment of bordellos that thrived in Lethbridge. The coalmines, on which Lethbridge was founded, attracted large numbers of young, single miners from Europe and the British Isles. Lethbridge became a major cattle-shipping point, attracting a second group of young men – cowboys. Between the two groups, they provided a very comfortable living for the madams and their girls. Gray writes,

“What other community, for example, could claim that its gaggle of whorehouses doubled as cultural centres, as Lethbridge’s did, during the expiring years of Victoria’s reign.

“By 1890 there were six brothels and the coal company dormitory within the triangle which was famous throughout southern Alberta as “The Point”. It’s gaudily painted two and three story houses became the town’s most prominent landmark. They could be spotted miles away from almost any direction, day or night.” [3]

In the photo below, “The Point” is the strip of land in the foreground, with the high-level bridge in the background.

The Point lethbridge Albeerta

 

In my next post, the life and times of Dolly Arthur– the last legal madam in Ketchikan, Alaska.

[1] Red Lights on the Prairies (Gray, 1971)

[2] Ibid. p. 197

[3] Ibid. p. 181

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Pickleball Mania

Parksville Seniors Pickleball Club

 

 

Who would have believed that Pickleball, a game invented on Bainbridge Island, Washington State fifty-one years ago, was destined to become the fastest growing sport in North America? The game owes its name to Pickle, a ball-retrieving cocker spaniel.

According to the US Pickleball Association (USPA) there are currently over 200,000 players  in North America.[1]  Pickleball Canada reported six-thousand players in 2014 and twelve thousand in 2016, doubling in just two years – and the fastest growing group is 55+.

Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. It’s played on a badminton-sized court with a net a few inches lower than in tennis. Players use what looks like an oversized ping-pong paddle to send a ball back and forth across the net – until someone misses. Be careful not to step in to the kitchen!

To understand the popularity of the game, visit any pickleball venue. It’s a very social game. You’ll see people having a great time. One of the players will welcome you with a big smile, explain the game, and invite you to join in. You’ll play with a variety of partners and get to know them better chatting between games. With the growing popularity of pickleball, chances are someone you know will be there.

Pickleball is a fun way to exercise. The bending, reaching and court positioning helps improve mobility and flexibility. Striking the ball enhances hand-eye coordination, while keeping score helps with short-term memory. I’m still working on that, but no one worries too much about the score. Time literally seems to fly by, and I always leave a session feeling tired, but exhilarated. To get started, all you need are court shoes, and gym attire or comfortable clothing. Most venues provide paddles for beginners.

Even if you haven’t played racquet sports, Pickleball basics are easy to learn, but a good place to start is at a beginner’s drop-in clinic. After a few sessions, you’ll be ready to join the regular drop in sessions offered at many recreation centres.

Whether you’re a snowbird and flock south for the winter or travel close to home, there’s probably a |Pickleball group nearby.  No matter where you go in the Pickleball world, you won’t be a stranger for long.

If serious competition is your forte, Pickleball accommodates that, too. There’s a range of fun and seriously competitive tournaments. Oh, yes. There’s one other thing I should mention. Pickleball is highly addictive.

[1] http://www.usapa.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Pickleball-Fact-Sheet-2015.pdf

[2] www.pickleballcanada.org/

[3] http://www.oliverchronicle.com/pickleball-popular-among-thousands-of-seniors/

Bagpipes – an offensive weapon?

While an occasional few don’t fully appreciate the musical qualities of the bagpipes, I was amazed to discover that the bagpipes are the only musical instrument to have been considered a weapon of war.

April 16, 1746 was a watershed date in Scottish history. At the Battle of Culloden, seven thousand Jacobites armed with swords and daggers faced the muskets and cannons of the King of England’s  eight thousand man Hanoverian  army. On that day, one thousand Scots and three hundred Hanoverians died on Drummossie Moor.

culloden-illustration-460

With the defeat of the Highland Army, the English proclaimed the Act of Proscription, which forbade wearing Tartan, speaking Gaelic, and playing bagpipes. Punishment could include lashes with the cat of nine tails and then imprisonment or worse, death.” http://www.canadaatwar.ca/forums/showthread.php?t=729

James Reid was among the many arrested. His lawyer argued that Reid had carried no weapon into battle  – only his pipes,but the judge disagreed, ruling that “a Highland regiment never marched without a piper, and therefore Reid’s bagpipes were an instrument of war.” Reid was hanged drawn and quartered.”http://www.citylab.com/design/2012/04/war-bagpipes-wiping-single-instrument-urban-map/1754/

But attempts to silence the pipes didn’t end with Culloden.The following are summarized from John Metcalfe’s April 13, 2012 article in CityLab. (http://www.citylab.com)

1999: An Edinburgh man launched a Campaign Against Bagpipes. Clive Hibberts and his friends police the city’s famed Royal Mile, picketing pipers.  The campaign ultimately fails. (His other campaign against kilts dies, too.)

2007: Ciaran Murtagh and Andrew Jones start the second Campaign Against Bagpipe, arguing: “They all sound the same. These tunes that bagpipers profess to play all sound equally bad. Where is the talent in that? Isn’t it time to make Scotland a quieter place?”  This campaign seems to have failed, too.

2008: In Oxford, piper Heath Richardson is banned from busking  after four hundred of the area’s shop owners signed a petition calling for his exile.

2008: Edinburgh’s ‘Bloody Bagpipe Crackdown’ Any bagpiper  blowing on the Royal Mile is threatened with arrest, and  buskers are forced to sign “acceptable behaviour contracts” Piper Shaun Cartwright, was arrested for causing “distress” to bystanders.

2011: Edinburgh passes another law forbidding business from playing bagpipe music from their sidewalk speakers.

2011: In New Zealand, Rugby World Cup officials declare the bagpipe unwelcome at future games. The instrument joins a list of banned items that includes flares and air horns. Sports broadcaster Miles Davis goes on record to say he’s behind the prohibition, because bagpipes sound like “a hyena caught in a gin trap” and are “as bad as the vuvuzela.”

2012, Vancouver, British Columbia.  The latest salvo in the War Against Bagpipes landed in Vancouver where the municipal code prohibited busking with drums or bagpipes. The city’s engineering department claimed pipers were interfering with its work.But on April 12, 2012 Mayor Gregor Robertson threw out the anti-pipe ordinance. “The clans won’t stand for it!”‬ he said.

 

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Heavy Lifting -Scottish Style

Highland Games 56 pound weight throwAye, The 2016 Victoria Highland Games and Celtic Festival  was a braw celebration. The skirl of the pipes from a dozen or more bands mingled with the grunts, groans and yells of the ‘heavy events’ athletes. These days, the heavy events are in the spirit of sportsmanship but their origins date back centuries to the Scottish highlands. When they weren’t  fighting a neighboring clan, or joining forces to fight the English, the crafty highlanders devised imaginative ways to challenge each other. The modern iterations are the ‘heavy events’. It used to be that the heavy events were just for the lads – but nae mair! Modern lassies, proving themselves just as daft as the lads, take their turns, too.

Heavy events include shot-putting a big rock, in highland games jargon imaginatively enough called ‘the stone’. Then there’s the weight throw. Kilts fly high as competitors twirl  at dizzying speed and then launch the implement. It soars high in the air, bruising the ground with a thud and leaving a small crater. Not an event appreciated on manicured lawns.

The ‘hammer’ doesn’t actually look much like one. It’s an iron ball attached to long shaft.  Competitors wear shoes with long knives protruding from the toes. They dig these into the ground to keep their feet in place and use their arms and torso to rotate the hammer several times before letting go. A chiropractor is on hand for spinal re-alignments.

The ‘weight-over-bar’ event is a one-handed effort. The thrower assumes a crouched position, legs apart, and swings the weight back and forth to build momentum and then heaves it upward and backwards to clear a crossbar. It’s a risky venture if the competitor doesn’t angle it just right – and it comes down on his – or her head.

Heavy events are among the most popular draws at highland festivals, and ‘throwing the caber’ is the most popular. The caber toss an improbable looking endeavor where  competitors hoist and balance a large pole, run with it and then try to ‘tun it over’- flipping it end over end. Another uniquely Scottish invention.

Heaving an empty beer keg down the field is usually the final event – the full keg saved for aprez- games camaraderie.

Yes, I write fiction, but improbable as these events seem, I’m really not making them up. Click on the u-tube link for a video of the ‘heavy events’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28QFio97Nnk

Next post – Bagpipes – a weapon of war.

Crime fiction meets reality

RCMP Dive recovery team

A friend, similarly inclined to pen nefarious fictional crime plots, e-mailed me about a RCMP open house. Always striving to make scenes realistic, it was an opportunity not to be missed. As a former diver, I was drawn to the recovery dive team. Their  display showcased state of the art diving gear, and a command van complete with a compressor for refilling air tanks. Working in pairs, the divers wear helmets fitted with cameras linked to surface monitors, providing extra eyes  on search areas that often have poor visibility. In my soon to be released book, The Douglas Document – Betrayal, a police dive team recovers a body from the Inner Harbor in Victoria.

At 33,000 pounds, the Tactical Armored Vehicle (TAV) is used for hostage and armed standoff situations. It makes a Hummer look small. The TAV houses eight Tactical Team (TAC) members in a compartment that rivals a bank vault security. The friendly TAC team member on hand to answer questions, advised that just the arrival of the TAV at a scene often results in a quick resolution. Yeah, that would do it for me. When the eight guys in the back of the TAV come out, it’s a big problem for whoever is unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end. In my second Douglas Document book – Retribution – there is a hostage situation, but no TAV or TAC team – just Scott Rockland,  my stalwart detective, his crippled partner, Liz Bailey, and an RCMP Sergeant.TAV RCMP

 

 

 

The police dogs and their trainers were amazing. To the dogs, it’s all play – fun and games. Police dogs are German Shepherd specially bred for police work. The first  was a young dog in training. The second was a three year old animal with that classic police dog look – sleek and powerful. The ability of the dogs to focus in the midst of multiple distraction is truly amazing. Police dogs don’t appear in any of my stories yet – but it could happen.

police dog

Nice puppy!

Forensic identification is always of interest to me. There was a finger print display, and an exercise at matching. The RCMP member explained crime scene examination and techniques for collecting evidence and taking foot imprints. DNA evidence figures prominently in crime investigation – guilt or innocence may depend on a single hair. Items carefully collected at crime scenes are sent to the RCMP forensic laboratory for analysis.

If you have thoughts or information about crime scene investigation, stories you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you.